By Eric Crawford, WDRB Sports
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – I couldn’t help but wish that this reunion could have been different. The University of Louisville could’ve brought out its 2013 NCAA basketball championship team to a huge ovation from the KFC Yum! Center crowd. Rick Pitino would’ve been there. It should’ve been a feel-good moment.

Instead, Friday night at Fourth Street Live -- a venue from which Pitino once banned many of these same players -- the 2013 U of L basketball team held a five-year reunion, with fans invited. Hundreds of them showed up, waited in line for autographs, relived memories from the 2013 season.

But the banner this team won in 2013 is, of course, gone, vacated by the NCAA and taken down by U of L. Pitino was nowhere to be found, having been fired by the university after it was caught up in an FBI college basketball corruption investigation. There were some key people missing: Gorgui Dieng, Kevin Ware, Wayne Blackshear, Montrezl Harrell.

All that is left of that season are the memories. But over the past couple of days, the members of this title team experienced how powerful some of those memories are.

“This is great,” Peyton Siva said. “It’s like we never even left each other. . . . (The NCAA vacating the title) stings a little bit, but it doesn’t affect my memories at all. I remember in great detail what happened. Everybody watched it. They know who won the championship. . . . We take great pride in the sacrifice and hard work that we put in.”

Luke Hancock, who became the first non-starter to win the Final Four Most Outstanding Player award, said that when the players saw each other, the intervening years and all their controversy seemed to peel away. They didn’t sit around talking about the things that have happened. They didn’t compare notes on events Katina Powell alleged. Instead, they caught up on each other’s lives, asked about children, remembered all that they went through in that run that caught the nation’s attention in March and April of 2013.

“Just the chance to hang out with these guys and reunite and reconnect, it has been such a great experience,” Hancock said. “(Thursday) night was fun. As guys would trickle in, we’d all get excited. Peyton Siva walked in and we all got up to give him a hug, ask him how his wife and kids are doing. Chane Behanan. Mike Marra. Steve Van Treese, on and on. You can stay connected on social media, but to see them, hug them, it’s special.”

Russ Smith said there was little talk of the negative, of parties, of NCAA investigations.

“We all have lives,” Smith said. “It’s time to move on.”

To vacate something, in a legal sense, means to set it aside. To invalidate a result. To vacate a court order is to cancel it, or reverse it. That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. It only means it has no legal force moving forward.

People often say that Louisville’s 2013 NCAA championship never happened. That’s not what vacating means. It means that it happened, but has been set aside.

Except, so many things, you can’t set aside. The season happened. I have ultimate proof – I have the expense reports to prove it.

The NCAA says that U of L’s Big East regular-season and tournament championship have been vacated. I still have half of a net that WDRB’s Steve Andress cut down in Madison Square Garden after Louisville’s team declined to cut them.

I remember the groundswell after Kevin Ware’s injury. I remember Hancock making four straight threes in the title game, and thinking about his father, near death in the crowd. I remember Tim Henderson making two threes against Wichita State in the national semifinals, and knowing then that Louisville was going to win the title. I remember Behanan wading into groups of bodies and coming away with the basketball. I remember Montrezl Harrell’s dunk, and Peyton Siva’s lob to him to get it.

All those things and many more aren’t wiped from history – even if some are wiped from the record books.

What really sullies the whole proceeding is what happened with Katina Powell and various players and recruits. Things that should never have happened. But they did.

No coaches were at the reunion Friday night. So the players met on their own. There were no official representatives from U of L.

“We completely understand that,” Hancock said. “We understand the predicament they’re in.”

Still, athletic director Vince Tyra invited the team to his house. And the players were unanimous in support of new coach Chris Mack, as the program tries to turn the page.

if anything, I guess what I take away from an event like this is that things happen, but life goes on. These guys have moved on. And I’m glad to see it.

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